As they struggle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, some restaurants are charging their customers fees for the added expenses required to comply with safety regulations. In some ways, this is understandable. Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, and they are spending extra money on masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, barriers, takeout containers, paper menus, and individually packaged utensils and condiments. But from the customer’s point of view, it is simpler and more transparent for restaurants to simply increase their prices, as opposed to charging diners an extra fee.
Boston.com did an article about this new trend. A few examples listed in the article: Brassica Kitchen + Café in Jamaica Plain is charging a 3% fee for all takeout orders in addition to the 3% administrative fee that it charges for in-restaurant dining; Five Horses Tavern, Worden Hall, and Elm Street Taproom have introduced a 3% PPE fee; Shy Bird in Cambridge and Branch Line in Watertown have introduced a 5% “Safe & Sustainable” fee; and Top Dog in Rockport has implemented a 75 cent fee per order.
Several restauranteurs were interviewed in the article and explained the reasoning behind their new fees. “Diners really want to know where their money is going, and we wanted to make it really clear,” said Rebecca Kean of Brassica Kitchen + Café. Laurie Russell of Top Dog said that if she were a customer, she’d much prefer a fee to a price increase. “I’d be so upset,” she said. “I really just didn’t want to raise prices.”
I disagree with these sentiments. As a customer, I would much rather see higher prices than a mandatory added fee. In my opinion, PPE fees and safe and sustainable fees are an example of lack of price transparency. Quite frankly, when I purchase a product, I’m not as concerned with seeing where my money is going as I am with simply knowing how much the product is going to cost me. Thanks to tips and taxes which are not included in the prices listed on the menu, the restaurant industry is already lacking in price transparency. The last thing I would want to see when I go to a restaurant (aside from mandatory contact tracing forms, but that’s a whole different issue) is the need to do more math to determine how much I actually have to pay. The price listed on the menu should be the actual price. If a restaurant needs to increase that price from what it was before, I would completely understand, and so would the vast majority of customers. Restaurants are struggling mightily during this pandemic, so I’m hesitant to criticize any of their efforts to make ends meet. But additional fees are not a good solution. Raising prices would be just as effective in covering a business’s added costs and would be more straightforward for customers. Just as shipping and handling charges should be incorporated into the price of an item instead of added on afterward, restaurants should simply set their prices at a level that allows them to stay in business. If something is not optional, it should not be a separate item on the bill.